One of the few things Donald Trump and Joe Biden agreed on was that our country’s twenty-year misadventure in Afghanistan had to end. Trump negotiated with the Taliban that US forces would withdraw in early 2021, while Taliban forces would refrain from attacking Americans in the meantime. Biden implemented that agreement, with a delay of a few months.
I supported Joe Biden against Trump in the 2020 election, and would do so again, if he is the Democratic nominee, against Trump or any conceivable GOP nominee in 2024. But I would do so in spite of his responsibility for a chaotic, dishonorable withdrawal from Afghanistan.
The attempt to transform Afghanistan through military intervention was doomed to failure. We understand that now, after twenty years. Nonetheless, many thousands of Afghanis risked their lives to help us. Many more thousands of women benefited from our push for women’s education and participation in the labor force. These are people whose lives are now at risk. We owed it to them to get them out as we left. We failed many of them, in those final chaotic days and hours of the withdrawal. But that failure was not inevitable.
President Biden knew when he won the election that the withdrawal from Afghanistan was coming. Some of his aides might have hoped to change his mind and keep some presence in that country, but his mind was clear: it was time to end the long war. The withdrawal didn’t have to be rushed and chaotic. Knowing in advance that withdrawal was coming, he could have kept US forces longer in remote bases in order to extract our helpers and any women who wanted to leave. Instead, the American presence was rapidly shrunk to little more than Kabul.
That meant that anyone who wanted out had to get to Kabul and fight through the desperate crowds around the airport. We remember.
Biden says that chaos was inevitable.